Is this the most structured Venture Bros. season ever? Previous seasons have had over-arching plots, but those plots have largely been parceled out over the course of several comparatively standalone entries; if I had one major criticism of the show is that its narrative economy occasional borders on the abrupt. But it worked, for the most part. This time, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer seem to be trying something new. The show feels more heavily serialized than ever, and what’s more, each episode seems to be building on the last in a way I don’t remember happening before.

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All of which is a potential mea culpa for being a bit harsh on the season to date. I’m not sure if what’s happening now entirely erases my qualms, but I do think the design is more ambitious than I initially gave the writing credit for, and I’m getting more and more excited to see where this is building. In “It Happening One Night,” Hank goes on a date, Blue Morpho rides again, and Doc Venture is arched by the Doom Factory. Everything goes more or less as you’d expect, up to and including the fate of Blue Morpho’s latest foes—and that’s what’s so interesting. There’s a clear crisis brewing, and that crisis threatens one of the show’s most enduring relationships.

I’ve been talking about stakes a lot lately, and how the Venture Bros. may be running out of them, and it’s true that Rusty’s pain doesn’t matter a whole lot anymore. His struggles to define his adult life trapped in a world of perpetually frozen adolescence have more or less resolved into a permanent holding pattern. He’s still a whiny, self-centered twit, but he’s just tolerable enough to not be a walking wound; instead of the show’s protagonist, he’s been transitioned to central figure who really just exists to react to the absurdity around him. His big work in “It Happening One Night” is commenting on the strangeness of the Doom Factory’s shenanigans. There’s no real concern for his life or his soul anymore, at least not for right now.

Curiously, if not entirely unsurprisingly, it’s the Monarch whose taken on the mantle as the main plot motivator. His surprisingly callous enthusiasm is starting to give the season an unexpected charge; robbed of the chance to arch Venture himself, he’s taken to (so far, unintentionally) murdering anyone else who goes after Rusty, and, what’s more, drugging his wife to keep her from realizing what’s going on. The Monarch has always been closer to Rusty than he’d be willing to admit, but his peevishness is driven by a self-confidence that only occasionally trembles. Tonight, he makes multiple mistakes, but is so caught up in his scheming that when his latest plan kills half a dozen or more people, he’s really just impressed by how cool it looks. (More, he’s so impressed that he brags to the doc. The dude’s in a weird headspace.)

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As for those half a dozen or more, that’s where the other part of that structure I was talking about comes in. This is third week in a row where a new arch is introduced for Rusty, that arch takes a swing at Venture HQ, and through a series of unfortunate events, the arch winds up dead. It’s a great way to showcase a bunch of new characters, give them a chance to shine for a few minutes, and then relegate them to the bloody dustbin of history. The only surprise this week is that the Doom Factory didn’t end up at the bottom of the pit in the Venture building’s lobby.

The Doom Factory is a nifty conceit, riffing on Andy Warhol, Super Friends, and (I’m guessing) Doom Patrol for a bad guy who’s just the right kind of annoying. Wes Warhammer isn’t someone we need to see every week to get the point of him. Throw in some clever Warhol nods for the faithful, and you have someone who is both memorable and expendable. The idea that they’d use a wild, psychedelic party (along with some provocative filmmaking) to cover for what amounts to simple theft is a good gag, and it’s getting funnier and funnier to see how nonplussed Rusty is by all of this.

Meanwhile across town, Hank goes out on a date with Sirena, and it’s pretty much as endearing as you’d think it would be. He enlists Dean, Billy, and Pete to help him impress Sirena which is both cringe-inducing and surprisingly successful, and the two end up canoodling in the ocean while Brock and Sirena’s bodyguard (who are having something of a team-up) look for them on land.

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It’s very cute, and nice to see Hank hook up with someone who, so far as we know, has never been anywhere near his father. The “cute girl finds dorky guy’s clumsy attempts to woo her charming” idea is something that’s arguably played out in pop culture, but Hank’s enthusiasm and essential optimism help justify this. Who knows how long it will last, and maybe it’s all building to some confusion when Blue Morpho inadvertently kills Wide Wale, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch blames it on Rusty, but for now, it’s nice to see something that manages to be sweet without becoming entirely cloying.

Stray observations

  • I like how Nathan Fillion keeps popping up every so often as the Brown Widow.
  • Hank wears a copy (?) of Michael Jackson’s outfit from the “Bad” video on his date. Pete attempts to mug them, and Hank disarms him using the power of dance.
  • The video Doom Factory sends to Venture HQ is a nod to Warhol’s Empire, an eight hour “movie” of the Empire State Building.
  • “Dead dolphin juice in my mouth!” -Blue Morpho suffers for his work.
  • “Four different albinos held us up.” -Sirena, who is not easily fooled.
  • I think Billy was dressed up like Eddie Murphy at the beginning of Trading Places for a second there.

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